GONZALES: Unions, the UFC, and Strikeforce – Workers get screwed unless they stick up for themselves

By Frank Gonzales, MMATorch contributor


In the spring of 1992, I was a freshman at UCLA when Professor J. Cole told a story about three umpires and how they call pitches. The first umpire says, “Some pitches are balls, some pitches are strikes, I call them like they are.” The next goes, “Some pitches are balls, some pitches are strikes, I call them like I see them.” Finally, the last umpire says, “Some pitches might be balls, and some pitches might be strikes, but they ain’t nothin’ until I call ‘em.” Since my disposition is more of a truth interpreter than a reality creator, I choose the middle path of perception in naming this column, and hopefully you’ll visit weekly to check out my thoughts on our oh so compelling yet oh so absurd world of mixed martial arts. And if you haven’t figured out that MMA is insane, then you really are a mark.

And that’s a shoot, brother.

Last Thursday, MMA Twitter was buzzing about the newly formed Professional Fighters Association and their intent to organize a labor union/association among UFC fighters. I didn’t think too much about it, because any longtime fighthead has heard this talk many, many times, and ultimately, it’s just that talk.

Once I read the actual press release, though, I got a little giddy. Not because this new entity was endorsed by the NFLPA. Or the MLBPA. Or the NBAPA. What caught my attention was one name and one name only: Jeff Borris.

Two years after I learned the umpire anecdote, I interned for the Beverly Hills Sports Council, an agency representing an all-star team of baseball players from the ’90s. Guys such as Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, and Mike Pizza regularly strolled through the office, while guys like me arranged transportation for their race horses and took advantage of the catered lunches.

At the time, Borris was already one of the most successful agents in the game, and if you watched him work, you knew the dude is sharp without being sleazy, works his ass off, and takes great pleasure in making owners grab their ankles. This isn’t just some jabroni with a JD.

This guy’s a player.

And that made this son of Teamster smile. When your old man’s in a labor union, part of your inheritance is a fundamental understanding that workers get screwed unless they stick up for themselves. I’ve learned this doesn’t always hold true, but it certainly appears that way with the UFC.

Not that it matters what I think. Or what the MMA media thinks. Or what you think. It actually doesn’t matter what the fighters think. What matters is what they do. Or, potentially, what they don’t do.

Because even if, somehow, someway, Mr. Borris and Co. can wrangle up the 400-plus fighters scattered across the globe and convince all of the different personalities and perspectives to join in solidarity, that doesn’t mean jack until they’re recognized by the UFC’s new owners, William Morris Endeavor. One might think that WME, who does nothing but deal with unions/guilds/associations, would be sympathetic to the UFC’s talent, as representing talent is what got them in the game. But if they aren’t? How will the fighters react? What can they do to counter?

They can strike.

Major League Baseball players have. Multiple times. Same with NFL football players. Basketball, hockey, soccer – doesn’t matter the sport, at some point things get ugly and each side has to flex their muscle. These are necessary evils in negotiations, trump cards no one wants to play, but have to be willing to.

And while a stoppage on fights is far from anyone’s objective, please be aware that supporting a union/fighters association now means you support a potential strike in the future. Unions and strikes are like scorpions and stingers: you can’t have one without the other. Don’t be the frog who’s surprised when he’s stung.

Sadly, I’d lay odds on a USADA type of reaction if a strike were to occur. You know the drill… folks cheer the efforts to cleanup the sport, then bitch when someone pisses hot and a fight gets cancelled. MMA fans are consistently inconsistent, and often fail to see how the dots are connected.

Which is why I’m being so explicit, so far in advance, about something that hopefully never happens. If the goal is for fighters to be treated like true professionals, and a union/association is the best avenue there, we can’t turn on them if they walk out of a pay-per-view in protest. Or cancel a fight card on Fox. We must be willing to be deprived of our precious cage fighting. This is a sport we dig, but it’s a life they live. And that’s a double shoot, Ruth.

(Frank Gonzales is a new MMATorch contributor. Look his “As I See It” column once a week here at MMATorch. Follow him on Twtter @frankieagogo.)

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